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Showing posts from 2015

Every Sha-la-la, Every Woah-woah-oh

The other day, PBS aired a remastered version of the documentary Close to You: Remembering the Carpenters, which originally debuted on public television in 1997. I was excited to rewatch it, for multiple reasons.
I will forever have an appreciation for the Carpenters because they were part of the soundtrack of my childhood. My mom was a devotee of the well-constructed pop of the '70s, and so Richard and Karen played often alongside Elton John, Billy Joel, James Taylor, and Neil Diamond. And I vividly remember watching the 1989 TV movie The Karen Carpenter Story. It was my first exposure to the idea of anorexia, and my 12-year-old mind was blown by the idea of someone looking in the mirror and not seeing reality.

I bought Close to You on VHS at a thrift store or garage sale at some point in the early 2000s. One Sunday afternoon my friends Tiger and Christa came over after we'd gone out to lunch. Tiger spotted the tape on the shelf and said, "Let's watch that.&qu…

Rock Solid: Rush

"If you only own one album by Rush it's gotta be ____________________."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The AllMusic Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with two exceptions: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits) or live albums.In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.


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The wonderful and terrible thing about this Rock Solid method is way it subverts expectations.

If you had asked me before I looked at the…

Rock Bottom: Rush

The one constant in every established artist's oeuvre is the bad album, the one that's reviled by both fans and critics. Those unlovable albums are the ones this feature, Rock Bottom, is concerned with.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources, the All Music Guide (for the critical point-of-view) and Amazon.com (for the fan perspective). The album with the lowest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the worst. I may not alwaysagree with the choice, and my reviews will reflect that. I'll also offer a considered alternative.Finally, there are some limits. The following types of albums don't count: 1) b-sides, remix, or hits compilations, 2) live albums, and 3) albums recorded when the band was missing a vital member.


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This is why we have rules. By the numbers, Rush's 1974 self-titled debut is their lowest-rated album by both fans and critics. However, the band that recorded that album was comprised of Geddy Lee, Alex …

"I Bring to You My Songs"

This past Saturday I went to what felt like one of the biggest concerts of my life: I saw Billy Joel at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

I've seen plenty of megawatt acts in my time, but this one felt different going in. Billy's music has been part of my personal soundtrack since I was six years old. My mom played the tapes of An Innocent Man and Greatest Hits until I knew those songs by heart. I got the Storm Front album on cassette for the Christmas of 1989. In college Billy Joel's music was a welcome nostalgia trip, a musical warm blanket. As an adult I've expanded my knowledge of his catalog, discovering and reveling in the lyrical depth and intensely autobiographical nature of his songs.

But, despite a couple of good opportunities, I'd never seen the man in person.

Even so, I tempered my expectations as best as possible. Truly transcendent concert experiences are rare (I've had maybe 3 in my life out of scores and scores of shows), and they almost never …

33 and Life

A few years ago I wrote about the fact that I no longer had a voracious appetite for new music. It was difficult to admit, seeing as how I'd previously been so determined to avoid becoming the cliche guy-who-gets-older-and-stops-keeping-up-with-what's-popular. (This is, of course, only a step up from the guy-gets-older-and-believes-all-music-made-after-he-left-high-school-is-shit.)

But the reality was impossible to deny. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out reasons for my decline, and ended up blaming various culprits: Mp3s, marriage, fatherhood, brain research, the fact that several of my favorite artists put out their least compelling work in the mid-2000s. In truth it was probably a combination of all of these things with no single one deserving the whole of the blame.

Today I came across a report about a study that concludes that people tend to stop paying attention to popular music at age 33. Guess what? I wrote the aforementioned essay in 2010, two months after my …

I'm Gonna Take Back Some of the Things I Said About You

Every once in awhile I find myself, when a certain heady mixture of nostalgia and narcissism takes hold, re-reading my old reviews.

Revisiting one's opinions can be frustrating, especially when some of those opinions are more than 10 years old. There's a temptation - I call it the George Lucas Feeling - to go back and revise some of the places where I was overly generous or overly dismissive. But I always resist, mostly because it would feel somehow disingenuous.

But there's one particular review that's been sticking in my craw for the past six months or so. And it's not so much about the album itself or what I wrote about it as much as it is what my changed opinion represents.

Last summer I wrote a post about my favorite artists. I'd devised a stats-driven way to determine which musical artists I loved the most, so I shared the process and results. Immediately after, I began to feel uneasy about what I'd posted. Why? It's hard to pinpoint, but mostly…